Fight Fire with Firefighters
Staffed by firefighters, AA Fire Protection, LLC offers unique expertise
In 1980, firefighters in northern Ohio formed AA Fire Extinguishers on the premise that they were uniquely qualified to help businesses meet their extinguisher needs. The idea clearly worked, because almost four decades later the company has grown significantly in size and scope. Now known as AA Fire Protection, LLC, the Elyria, Ohio-based business continues to be staffed by former and current professional firefighters and offers a full spectrum of fire-protection equipment and services throughout the state.
Scott McMillen, the Owner and CEO of AA Fire Protection, is a former firefighter and fire inspector and the son of Randy McMillen, who founded AA Fire Extinguishers. Scott joined the company in 2000, and since then he and his partner, Jim Kitko, have worked to expand its offerings beyond extinguishers. Today, the company provides complete fire safety protection in the form of sprinklers, alarms, exit lights, kitchen hood suppression systems, backflow-prevention systems, gaseous fire suppression systems, hydrants and fire pumps. The company has storefronts in two northern Ohio towns—North Ridgeville and Port Clinton—and an online store on its website, www.aafireohio.com.
After boosting its product and service offerings, AA Fire Protection began growing swiftly. “That was when we really took off and began spreading around Ohio,” Scott says. “We do absolutely everything that’s required for fire protection,” Scott says. “That’s our niche in the market.”
Along with installing fire-safety equipment and monitoring alarms, AA Fire Protection also inspects, maintains, repairs and offers warranties on the equipment that it provides. Unlike many of its competitors, AA Fire Protection aims to work with its clients to ensure that they receive the most from their fire-safety products for as long as they own them. “We follow each system through for the life of the property,” Scott says. “We don’t just install it and walk away. We’ll be back in six months to test and service it. Everybody else around here puts it in and then leaves.”
Since 2010, AA Fire Protection has offered safety-related courses at its state-of-the-art classroom and building. Courses include CPR training and classes on the use of fire extinguishers and automated external defibrillators. “We offer whole-facility safety,” Scott notes.
At the company’s outset, all of its employees were firefighters. But because of the demanding schedule faced by many in that industry, the company eventually had to hire non-firefighters to fill such roles as pipefitters and alarm technicians. Today AA Fire Protection has 24 employees, including part-time and full-time staff, and about half are full-time firefighters.
The main advantage of having firefighters on staff is their detailed knowledge of local fire codes and regulations, McMillen says. “We are very, very well versed not just on alarm regulations, but also sprinkler regulations,” he notes. “We were all fire inspectors. We go into buildings and see what the problem is and what codes they have to follow. Our educational background taught us what to look for.” As a result, AA Fire Protection staff can instruct clients about what to expect from future fire marshal inspections. “That’s one of the biggest reasons why firefighters work well in this industry,” McMillen says.
However, AA Fire Protection employees aim to do more than check items off an inspection list. With their detailed knowledge and understanding of fire risk, the company’s staff examines client facilities with an eye toward eliminating any potential hazards. “We’ve seen what fires can do and why they happen,” McMillen says. “When we’re in a place looking around, we’re not just focusing on what our task is. We are always looking out at what could happen.”
That willingness to go above and beyond what is expected has earned the appreciation of many clients, McMillen says. “We’ve received feedback from customers saying, ‘Thank you very much. You’ve helped us as an organization to get better, rather than just trying to make money. You’re doing more than you’re getting paid to do. We actually felt safer after you left.’ It was the best comment I’ve ever had from a customer.”
As an example of the type of work his company performs, McMillen highlights the role of AA Fire Protection in the development of the new StoryPoint retirement home under construction in Medina, Ohio. Under the terms of a $500,000 contract, his company designed and will install the fire-protection systems for the retirement home, no small feat given the nature of the facility. “The project is one of the hardest to do because of the clientele that they’re going to have,” he says.
A key benefit for clients of AA Fire Protection is the company’s ability to process change orders quickly and for free. In the case of the StoryPoint project, an in-house architect at AA Fire Protection prepared the initial drawings for the project. The plans then were sent to an outside architect and certified in accordance with the highest level available from the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET). This outside architect, with whom AA Fire Protection has a close working relationship, reviews the drawings, revises them as necessary and stamps the plans.
But that is not all, McMillen notes. The outside architect works in proximity to AA Fire Protection, greatly simplifying the process of change orders. “We don’t just send the plans to somebody out of state,” he says. As a result, any subsequent change orders that arise can be handled quickly and efficiently. “Any change order that’s required we do right away for no extra charge,” he says. “It’s a huge, huge advantage to companies we work for to be able to do changes right away.”
Another client benefit provided by AA Fire Protection is its use of the online construction management platform Procore. With the program, AA Fire Protection tracks project activities and expenses, enabling clients to maintain close tabs on a project’s status. “Managers can actually follow our path of progress and see what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” McMillen says, eliminating any confusion or unpleasant surprises regarding the pace and cost of a project. Moreover, he notes, AA Fire Protection provides “all the fire extinguishers for free for every one of our sites throughout the construction process.”
In recent years, AA Fire Protection has garnered relationships with major national clients including The Home Depot, Walmart Inc. and ALDI. Both Home Depot and Walmart have hired the company to replace sprinkler systems in several of their Ohio stores. Ultimately, AA Fire Protection will replace the existing sprinkler systems for more than 100 Home Depot locations in Ohio.
Companies in need of fire-protection services want to know that they can count on their provider no matter the circumstances. For this reason, many organizations, especially large multinational corporations, will only work with qualified partners that have documented their employee health and safety training, insurance coverage and incident rates. For its part, AA Fire Protection participates in the ISNetworld qualification process managed by the ISN Software Corp.
Although complying with the many requirements of ISNetworld has its challenges, the process is worth it because several large clients of AA Fire Protection otherwise would not do business with the company, McMillen says. Participation in ISNetworld also provides AA Fire Protection a certain level of exclusivity among local fire-protection companies.
McMillen exhorts anyone in need of fire-protection services to rely on those who know the field best. “Let the plumbers do your plumbing,” he says. “Let the electricians do your electrical. Let the cleaning companies do your laundry. But please, please let the firefighters do your fire protection. It’s more important than you know.”